smartwrapBusinessWeek TV has an ‘Innovation’ feature which this week described a futuristic building material called SmartWrap that, inventors say, could replace all existing interior and exterior wall materials, and might have other applications (e.g. ‘smart’ clothing) as well. A prototype, pictured at right, is apparently on display now in NYC at the Smithsonian’s National Design Museum. The ultrathin, ultralight material consists of 6 layers — an applied layer of carbon nanotubes that gives it rigidity, four ‘smart’ layers that can actually be ‘printed’ in rolls, and a PEN/PET substrate that holds them all together and protects them from the elements.

The four smart layers are:

  • Organic LED — that can allow full wall-size display of your TV, computer screen  etc., can be self-illuminating (eliminates need for lighting), and can change the appearance of your house (from inside or outside) when you feel like a change
  • Organic Thin Film Transistor — the controlling circuitry or ‘brain’ of SmartWrap
  • Phase Change Material — for thermal regulation
  • Organic Solar Cell — to provide environmentally-friendly and inexpensive power to the wall and to the whole building or other application

If you know anything about these technologies and want to see specs and production process information, they’re in this chart. More details are available here.

Announcements like this both excite me and bring out the skeptic in me. The potential technology applications are fascinating: They could:

  • allow you to ‘program’ and reconfigure your house quickly and inexpensively to suit your changing needs, tastes and fashions,
  • be portable (take your home with you when you move),
  • save enormously on heating/cooling/lighting energy and provide it with renewable solar sources,
  • eliminate the need for environmentally destructive, bulky, building materials,
  • make offices unnecessary

The potential applications for clothing and recreation are equally interesting.

But this has to be enormously expensive, and the software needed to make it work sounds horrendously complex. And what happens when it ‘goes down’? Any engineers, architects or advanced materials experts out there tell me whether this is really possible or just a pipedream? Also, if anyone in NYC has seen this, I’d like to know what you thought.

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  1. Rayne says:

    I know I saw “smart wall” technology back in 2000, where interior panelized walls could be made using ultra-thin display technology; the intent was to improve room usability by providing “windows” in interior rooms without access to natural light as well as providing features like maps or computing displays at the same time. If I can find my original source, I’ll patch it along.

  2. O RLY YA RLY says:

    I wonder if this stuff can do texture.

  3. Rayne says:

    Exhausted my resources, can’t find it. Could swear there was a European company working on this (Swiss?) nearly 4 years ago.

  4. hans says:

    If you watch the promo video, there are a lot of references to “in the future”… e.g. the OLEDs are single-color, glass-bonded panels embedded in the wrap, which will *later* be replaced with printed OLED layers on film.

  5. PI says:

    I have the same fascinated/skeptical reaction. We’re trying to sell our house right now, and are cleaning up scuffs and scratches on our walls. Obviously, you can’t just spot-touch some fresh paint on this surface if it is showing signs of wear and tear. How big a section would have to be replaced at a time? Is the material recycleable? Would this really be more energy efficient than current lighting and insulation technologies? When you paint a room in your house, you don’t have to worry about paint 2.0 being released right after you finish, making your work obselete. On a tangential topic, a visit to the aforementioned Smithsonian museum, called the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, is well worth it. I just caught their triennial design retrospective this summer. A fascinating trip whether or not you normally have much interest in art and museums.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Hans: I thought it was too good to believe. I wonder when ‘later’ is.PI: Thanks for the suggestion — I’ll check it out on my next visit to NYC. And ‘Paint 2.0’ — hilarious!

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